We are supporting Celia, in working towards her Gold Arts Award, here she shares her research, discussion and reflection on dance as a career.
More than a Hobby
Dance is an art form. Frequently seen as semi-professional, or as a hobby. In my opinion, a career in dance should be given the same value as other professions. Even when dance is considered a professional career it doesn’t hold the same value as careers in healthcare or business sectors. I make this statement based on facts and on my personal experience within our society, and I have incorporated some of my family members’ and friends’ opinions in my writing.
According to the British government’s career website, jobs in dance have a lower salary than other occupations. A dance practitioner’s wage also varies more throughout their career, in comparison to, for example, a school teacher’s wage which stays consistent. There may well be a connection between this unreliable income and dance practitioners often being self-employed and/or undertaking different jobs simultaneously. The uniqueness of each dance practitioner’s everyday work life and their individual workload adds to this dichotomy. These irregularities make it harder for dance to be acknowledged as a steady career option, and this is probably part of the reason why dance receives less recognition when it comes to its value within the professional world. I talked about this with my dad who said: ‘A career in dance is often seen as impecunious in our society, as not producing a financial gain, thus not being of value. Whereas a career in dance is creative and intellectually stimulating. A career in dance, or indeed any of the arts or socially oriented careers, has an intrinsic value and a direct effect on people and on society.’ This suggests that there are different ways a career can be valued; financially, socially, personally and emotionally. The creative and intellectual aspect of art, will be discussed in a later paragraph.
In October 2020 an advert was published, backed by the British government, that showed the slogan ‘Rethink. Reskill. Reboot’. It suggested that a career in cyber-technology would be better than a career as a ballet dancer and that it was time for the ballet dancer to retrain. As stated in several newspaper articles (e.g. The Independent, The Guardian), this clarifies that, even on a governmental level, dance is not appreciated as an even contender in the career world.
The creative industry and the dance sector are clear contributors to the British economy. According to a report by the economics consultancy CEBR ‘in 2015 arts and culture businesses contributed £15.8 billion in turnover to the UK economy’.This is one good reason for dance to be seen as a valid career choice, as it has not only personal and social benefits – as unpacked below – but also contributes to the country’s economic growth. Even if other sectors boost the economy more than the dance sector, in my opinion, this is no reason to devalue or undervalue dance. Dance contributes to British society on multiple levels.
Dance as Part of the Arts Industry
Dance in the UK exists as its own sector in the arts industry and is set up with its own professions, such as teachers, performers and therapists. There are nationwide opportunities to connect with dance professionals, to keep refreshing skills and to engage in further learning. The network One Dance UK addresses all dance practitioners involved in the profession; dancers, choreographers, teachers, students, artistic directors. They offer support and further training to dance practitioners throughout all stages of their careers.
Some facts about the dance sector in the UK:
- 22,500 out of 30,000 dance professionals work as dance teachers and only a relatively small number actually go into a performing career
- around 5,000 dance practitioners find themselves as dance therapists or in management positions
- all the dance teachers have the opportunity to pass on valuable skills and benefits of dance to society and new generations of dance practitioners
- the benefits of dance are far reaching and include improvement of physical and mental health, physical fitness, muscle strength, coordination, brain functions (such as memory), social skills and emotional stability – these are vital skills for everyday life and according to Bupa, the international health insurance and healthcare group, dance has the potential to really make a difference to enrich people’s lives
- dance also has the power to improve differently abled people’s situations, as a study from Edge Hill University has shown that dance movement psychotherapy has a positive impact on children on the autism spectrum as well as their carers
- dance has enriched our cultural experience for centuries and is still popular today
- dance is part of our culture and aside from historic contexts, dance is also part of the contemporary entertainment sector
The Value of Creativity
On reviewing a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, who was a teacher, professor, writer, researcher, advisor and speaker who focused his career on creativity, culture and education, I found that his perspective shapes and reflects my thinking and experiences.
Creativity is extremely important in the arts and creative thinking it is a key skill to success in dance. One of the problems might be that creativity is undervalued and that the potential impact of creative thinking often goes unseen. Creative thinking, or what Robinson describes as ‘divergent thinking’, can boost the process of problem solving and multiplies the number of found solutions (TED Talk, 7:28 min). Creative thinking is one huge benefit that comes out of dance practice, a skill hugely beneficial on a personal as well as on a professional level. Creative thinking allows multiple answers to a question, rather than just one “correct” answer, and thus, opens up new possibilities and new ways to progress. The way a society values dance and the arts in general is not just about what or how adults think, it is about what children are taught in school, how their skills in different subjects are graded and how subjects are weighted. If subjects like maths and languages are treated differently to any art subject, children are taught from a young age that art is less important. Robinson says: ‘The arts are the victims of this mentality’ (TED Talk, 5:36 min). This under-appreciation is not resolved easily and is deeply rooted in society. If more different teaching styles were applied in schools and if a variety of mentalities was practiced, a greater number of children would become more diverse and would automatically get used to different ways of learning and working. This would also normalise the fact that there are different types of careers and success. A key element of such an implementation could encourage individual approaches to education instead of standardised thinking and teaching (TED Talk, 6:42-7:72 min). Robinson also states that ‘most great learning happens in groups’ which means that collaboration, a skill in which dance professionals are trained in, is a powerful tool to bring progress and accelerate any work process (TED Talk, 10:32 min).
Being a professional in the dance scene demands a complex skill set. Dance practitioners have to develop a range of skills in many fields, including administration, organisation, discipline, motivation, creativity, physical fitness, great control over the own body, and an ability to accept criticism. Dance professionals often hold down multiple jobs and have to be able to work independently and as a member of a team. These abilities make dance professionals highly skilled and very employable individuals, within and outside of the dance world. When discussing this topic with my mum and grandma, they mentioned the skills and commitment that are needed for a career in dance and they think the hard training behind these skills often goes unnoticed. My grandma said: ‘In the past, a career in dance was regarded a frivolous occupation and not a proper career. And, this came from a lack of understanding of what the training of a dancer involves. Nowadays there has definitely been a shift in understanding and dance as a career is taken more seriously’. According to them, this shift is connected to the fact that dance has become much more varied. ‘Dance is used for its health benefits and as a form of therapy now, and before it was purely for entertainment. In addition to that, there used to be just ballroom and ballet, mainly, and now there are all kinds of different dance styles’. Following this statement, I want to point out that dance has become much more accessible and is used in many different ways within our society.
Dance Professionals as an Asset to our Society
After having taken a closer look at this arts issue and taking different viewpoints into consideration my opinion has somewhat shifted in comparison to when I started writing. I still believe, the value of a career in dance is the same as a career in another sector. However, now I wonder if a further distinction would need to be made about what type of dance career this is. Perhaps a career as a dance therapist or a community project leader has a different value than a background dancer who goes on tour with a popstar. Additionally, I now question if it is even possible to compare careers from completely different sectors. As my mum says: ‘To become a professional dancer or dance teacher is special and does not compare to many other careers’.
There are two main aspects to a career in dance which I only considered in my writing after some of my family members and friends had raised them. Firstly, two of my family members said that the physical nature of being a dance practitioner makes it difficult to sustain the career due to loss of physical skills through ageing or injuries. This notion of a short-lived career has the potential to devalue dance as it may not be sustainable. I personally think that a life-long career in dance is possible, through choosing different ways of being involved in dance and perhaps changing paths within the dance sector. For example, going into teaching, dance therapy or management at a certain age. Secondly, when I asked my friend why dance as a career is valued differently to other professions, their answer was: ‘Because such a small amount of the population identifies with it, and would get involved in it’. This is certainly interesting to think about. However, the quantity of people who are directly involved with dance shouldn’t determine the value of a dance career, because there is a big variety of aspects that make a dance career valuable. For me, these aspects have to do with the quality of the work and not the quantity of people who are reached.
Generally speaking, I still have the same standpoint as when I started writing about this issue because I strongly believe in all the benefits of dance, mentioned previously. It hurts to constantly be seen as a hobby artist when the work we dancers do is highly professional and contributes to our society on multiple levels. A friend of mine stated: ‘The arts sector might be seen as less important than for example the healthcare sector because a society couldn’t function without healthcare but the chances that society could function without art are higher.’ What society would look like without art is a whole new question which I won’t go into now. However, I feel like this is a common mindset and might, partly, explain why dance as a career is undervalued. When I asked my friend if they stood by the statement ‘society could function without art’, they hesitated and didn’t give me a clear answer. I believe, that part of the reason why dance is often valued less than careers in other sectors, is because dance practitioners have an impact on society on a personal level, and business for example can have more of a general or even abstract impact. This personal impact is probably harder to measure than numbers of economic growth.
I personally see no reason for dance to have a lesser value than other career choices. In my opinion, dance offers so many positives – health benefits, problem solving skills, direct contribution to the economy – that dance should be seen as nothing other than a precious part of our society and culture. There are many more positives of dance than the ones I have mentioned and the ones mentioned are much more complex than described in this piece of writing. Dance in the UK already has a functioning professional sector in which practitioners are hard-working and continuously progressing yet undervalued. It seems only right to support these professionals and give them the recognition they deserve. I think, dance professionals should be seen as an important asset to our society and their jobs should receive great respect.
 National Careers Service (1) (n.d.), https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/search-results?searchTerm=dance. Accessed 30 December 2020.
 National Careers Service (2) (n.d.), https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/job-profiles/dancer. Accessed 30 December 2020.
 Swain, Marianka (2020), ‘The government’s attitude to Fatima and the arts will put them on the wrong side of history – they just don’t know it yet’, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/cyberfirst-advert-rethink-reskill-reboot-fatimas-next-job-coronavirus-arts-b992467.html. Accessed 2 January 2021.
 Arts Council (2017), ‘Contribution of the arts and culture industry to the UK economy’, https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/download-file/Contribution_arts_culture_industry_UK_economy.pdf. Accessed 2 January 2021.
 Sercombe, Catherine (2018), ‘Why careers in the arts matter’, Arts Award Blog, https://blog.artsaward.org.uk/why-careers-in-the-arts-matter. Accessed 5 January 2021.
,8 One Dance UK (2017), ‘A Guide to Careers in Dance’, p. 4, https://www.onedanceuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Careers-Guide-Digital-version.pdf. Accessed 30 December 2020.
 Bupa (2018), ‘The health benefits of dancing’, https://www.bupa.co.uk/newsroom/ourviews/health-benefits-dancing. Accessed 2 January 2021.
 Bocking, Stephanie (2020), ‘Study highlights the benefit of dance movement psychotherapy for children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers’, Edge Hill University, https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/news/2020/11/study-highlights-the-benefits-of-dance-movement-psychotherapy-for-children-on-the-autism-spectrum-and-their-caregivers/. Accessed 2 January 2021.
,14 One Dance UK (2017), ‘A Guide to Careers in Dance’, https://www.onedanceuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Careers-Guide-Digital-version.pdf. Accessed 30 December 2020.